LOCAL church leaders are fighting against the tide to try and make sure young people continue engaging with their work.
A study by the Diocese of Oxford revealed that in 2022 the average weekly attendance at church had dropped by 78 per cent when compared to pre-Covid figures in 2019.
This drop is putting pressure on increasingly empty churches, who are having to find new ways to reach out to the community, and make their charitable and missional work continue.
Canon Keith Farrow, who is the vicar of four parishes, has been taking new approaches, like serving as a bartender for a cocktail night at Cawthorne’s Comrades Club, where he engaged with those in attendance and talked about matters relating to the church and the local community.
A rather unusual night for a preacher, it is actions like these that are able to continue the church’s work, and engage new people.
Yet some believe that working with young people is the best approach, not only for the church, but the local community as a whole.
The recently inaugurated vicar Blair Radford, from both the Parish of St Peter and St John the Baptist and the Parish of St Mary Magdalene, said: “The church can do a lot, and I think that it’s by engaging with young people that we can find the best way to handle antisocial behaviour.
“We need those resources and provisions for them - understandably kids don’t want to just stay at home and want to be out with their friends.
“But if we help with social groups we can keep them off the street and give them better things to do.
“You’ve got to be realistic, there’s always gonna be kids who want to be naughty, but even if we can’t help everyone we can still make a difference.”
To help out with these wider community problems, Blair has been engaging with different organisations, helping make sure young people know that the church isn’t an old and stuffy place.
“I’m lucky to have close relationships with both the schools in my area,” he added.
“I host assemblies there and have recently become a governor - I’ve become a familiar face and kids will say ‘hi Blair’ when they pass me on the street.
“If I end up staying here long enough, I hope I’ll be supporting these pupils throughout their time at school.
“But I’m only one person - Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis has been really supportive and we’ve been working on developing the Lundwood Community Group to tie in all the resources in the area.
“We can then all understand what the other is doing and pull in the same direction.”
Blair recently appeared on BBC Radio Sheffield to discuss his ideas further and is persistently pursuing future efforts to continue his work.
While Blair and Keith represent more traditional church preachers, Barnsley has seen a rise in new churches that have more contemporary approaches.
Hope House Church, based in the town centre, began in 2009 - a non-denominational church, its leaders run the church very much like a community centre.
Pastor Paul Bedford told the Chronicle: “We’re still part of the church community in town, and members of Churches Together.
“There are some great churches in town doing brilliant things and it’s not a competition.
“But we take a different approach and style - we’re trying to connect real people, with a real God, in real life.”
Paul and his team do this by trying to make the church expand beyond just Sunday services and mass, with a cafe that is open every day and by using their space to host community groups like Migration Partnership and even Pride.
“From a lot of young people’s perspectives, they think the church isn’t relevant to their life,” he continued.
“So we’re not just here on a Sunday morning, we work with complete people who have a real life beyond that.
“We’ve got a youth team each with various backgrounds and they’re trying to relate to them and organise practical activities.
“A girl showed up recently asking to take part - she’d gone to our ‘Party in the Park’ event when she was a kid and remembered that people were great so she’s come back.
“But we take it all at her pace - it’s not about forcing rules on people, it’s about welcoming people and letting them know they’re wanted.
“People here feel comfortable to be themselves.”
Similarly, former Barnsley FC player-turned-pastor Bruce Dyer has opened his own church, Love Life UK on Blucher Street in the town centre, which celebrated its sixth birthday last week.
Like Hope House, Bruce’s missional work is much more modern, as he is involved in running TV specials, music concerts and hosting football tournaments.
“I’m a great believer that the message never changes, but the tools used to spread it do,” Bruce explained.
“Music is such a powerful tool for that and there’s some great Christian music out there.
“The gospel of Jesus Christ is never going to change, but we now have new ways to share it.”
With plenty of different approaches, Barnsley’s vibrant church community is continuing to evolve and adapt with the times.
While not as popular as it once was, these forward-thinking approaches are allowing new generations a chance to discover their faith.